In the buildup to the release of Some Nights, I went through various stages of extreme anticipation, preparations to be let down, and hope that those preparations would lead to my expectations being blown away. The songs released early on were indicative of differing levels of change in the band’s sound, leaving me with certain uncertainty as to what the album would be. Less than two years ago, in my first few listens of fun.‘s debut album Aim & Ignite, I found myself underwhelmed by a record that I’d seen hyped up for months. As time went on, it finally clicked. The emotion, the wordplay, the depth of sound, and the beauty of the arrangements kept drawing me back for more, making one of the best albums of 2009 the soundtrack of my summer in 2010.
On stream day for Some Nights, I found myself being drawn into a similar cycle. The first listen left me feeling somewhat cheated. It felt like nearly everything that made Aim & Ignite so wonderful had been tampered with. The lush orchestrations and full sound had been replaced by programmed drums and abrasive instrumentation. The perfections of Nate Ruess’ voice had been disguised by multiple effects. Portions sung by children? Really? Were my purposefully low expectations actually being met rather than exceeded? Rather than leaving my initial reaction as it was, I played the album again. And again. And again. I can’t stop. It’s easy to pick up on changes and hear them negatively when you want something to stay the same, but that doesn’t mean that change is bad. With this album, fun. has reinvented its sound, creating magic in a blend of new elements and the old ones that made the band so good in the first place.
“Some Nights Intro” bears a sense of both whimsy and depth, finding a tone that falls somewhere between the tracks from the band’s debut and Queen. The lyrics are intimate and sweeping, while the instrumentation manages to fit the same description, all within a mere two minutes before the huge opening of the title track, which is itself an anthem for the insecure and optimistic. Pounding drums propel the track forward at a marching pace as Ruess delivers a powerful performance. His lyrics are very strong throughout, exposing some very deep and personal thoughts and referencing his earlier work. This track introduces a section of vocoded vocalizations, also to be found on later tracks. Though it’s definitely an acquired taste, it manages to fit in before the guitar play near the end of the song. Immediately following is lead single “We Are Young.” Finding popularity through its inclusion in a car commercial and Glee, it works even better in the context of the album. Anthemic in a different way from “Some Nights,” it has grown on me exponentially in the months since I first heard it. Though I would’ve liked to have heard Janelle Monáe in a greater capacity, the track doesn’t necessarily need it. This is simply a great pop song, more than worthy of any and all radio success it sees.
Continuing with the album’s strong start is my personal favorite track, the immensely positive “Carry On.” Perhaps the track that most resembles the band’s previous work, it features a dynamic buildup, a catchy chorus, and one of the most striking lyrics from the record: “But I like to think I can cheat it all, to make up for the times I’ve been cheated on.” The song is full of great storytelling, but that line really sticks out to me with each listen. Unfortunately, the beauty of “Carry On” is somewhat destroyed by “It Gets Better,” a largely dissonant track full of overpowering drums, vocal effects, and repetitive lyrics. While I can appreciate the song in acoustic form, this version of it ruins the album’s flow by trying too hard with the overproduction of nearly every element, leaving it my least favorite of the record. Luckily, “Why Am I the One” brings back some of the dynamic qualities the band is so great at developing, featuring a huge singalong chorus, quieter intimate moments, and more interesting instrumentation than the previous song. The strings and vocal harmonies are particularly strong parts of this track.
“All Alone” has proven itself to be another one of the stronger cuts on the record. If there’s a song that could find greater radio success than “We Are Young,” the upbeat nature, fanciful and contemporary instrumentation, whimsical back-and-forth vocals, and perfect hook of the words “how do you cry with inanimate eyes” make this the one. Immediately following is “All Alright,” which features a great melody hidden behind poor execution. Aside from the bridge, the song feels a little bored with itself, with surprisingly blasé vocals and the children’s choir doing little to redeem what could have been another powerful song. “One Foot” is another song that has grown on me since the first time I heard it, also benefiting from its place on the record. Though the horns get a little repetitive, this is a track with some great lyrics that will be a lot of fun at the band’s shows, when it’s appropriate to move around and dance a little bit. The breakdown in the middle is one of the more powerful portions of the album, with the lines about Ruess’ father living on through the song being particularly touching.
Closer “Stars” toes the line between brilliance and insanity. The instrumentation is wonderfully unique to everything else the band has put out, and Ruess puts on one hell of a vocal performance that is bolstered by fantastic lyrics. However, the addition of vocal effects adds a polarizing element. It’s no secret that Ruess can sing, and the effects are there as a stylistic choice rather than to correct his already spot-on pitch. While I’d rather hear his voice in its natural state, the change does match the space-inspired instrumentation and will find many fans, particularly others who enjoyed Kanye West‘s most recent solo release. Either way, each band member does a wonderful job on this song, and it’s up to personal preference whether the vocal effects make this song better or not. Bonus track “Out On The Town,” included on all forms of the album’s release, is perhaps one of the best songs of the whole bunch. The lyrics outdo much of the album proper, the melodies are infectious, and it works as a nice coda to Some Nights. I particularly enjoy the layered vocals towards the middle of the track, and the ending makes the album finally feel complete.
Though this album might come across as disappointing to some fans (just as it did for me on my first listen), I wholeheartedly feel that this is a quality record. While some of the tracks might suffer from lackluster production, the songs themselves are very, very strong, with good instrumentation, great melodies, and even better lyrics. The only negative thing that might be said about this album is in respect to the route that the band took and the changes introduced in terms of sound, since they might not be appreciated by those who favored Aim & Ignite and hearing Ruess’ voice in a more natural capacity. With that said, the album itself (aside from “It Gets Better”) has a great flow about it, somehow making nearly every song sound better in context. If the record continues to grow on me as it already has, it might surpass its predecessor, and that’s never a bad thing, particularly when that predecessor was such a masterpiece. Some Nights might not be for everyone, but it deserves at least a handful of listens with an open mind. Trust me, if you give it that, you won’t want to stop.